Ness Notes: MLB 2021: 2-Week Sprint to the Finish

by Larry Ness

The San Francisco Giants won THREE World Series titles in a five-year span from 2010 through 2014 (2010, 2012 and 2014) but entering the current season, the Giants hadn't played in the postseason since 2016. Meanwhile, their hated rivals (LA Dodgers) began the current season having captured EIGHT consecutive NL West titles, capping that run with the team's first World Series win in 2020 since 1988. The Dodgers finished 40 games ahead of the Giants in 2017, 18.5 ahead in 2018, 29 games ahead in 2019 and even in last year's pandemic-shortened season of 2020 (60 games), the Dodgers were 14 games better than the Giants. What a difference ONE year can make!

As we wake on the morning of September 20, the Giants are 97-73 and the owners of MLB's best record. The Giants were the first team to clinch a playoff spot last Monday, while the 96-74 Dodgers clinched their ninth straight postseason appearance the very next day. As one can see, the Dodgers are just ONE game behind the Giants and with each team having 12 games remaining, LA is surely capable of capturing a NINTH straight NL West title. However, let me point out that the Giants currently own a rare 'daily double' in 2021. That is, they own MLB's best overall record, as well as its best moneyline record. The Giants check in at plus-$3,217 (at $100/game), $352 more than MLB's second-best moneyline team, the Seattle Mariners. Just so you know, while the Dodgers are just ONE game behind the Giants in the standings, they have actually lost money on the season at minus-$288. Don't tell me that the moneyline (or the pointspread in BKB and FB) are NOT the "great equalizers!" That said, don't ignore that LA owns MLB's top run-differential mark at plus-274 runs!

I referred to the Giants daily double above as being rare and let me point out that in the previous 15 MLB seasons (2006-2020) the ONLY other team to finish a season No. 1 atop the MLB standings as well as being that season's leading moneyline team has been the 2008 Angels. That team went 100-62 and was plus-$2,671 against the moneyline. Unfortunately for Angels fans (are there really any?), that year's team lost 3-1 in the ALDS to the Boston Red Sox. Before moving on to the rest of the league, one might ask just how good is San Francisco's current moneyline mark? Going back over that same 15-year span, the Giants mark of +$3,217 ranks second-best to only that of the 2012 Baltimore Orioles, Yes, the same Baltimore franchise that currently owns a 47-102 record in 2021 and is minus-$2,525 against the moneyline, went 93-69 in 2012 and finished with a moneyline record of plus-$3,649 (that's the best figure of any team since 2006). 

The Giants went 29-31 in 2020 but are not the only 29-31 team from 2020 that's made some real 'noise' in 2021. Both the Milwaukee Brewers and Houston Astros were 29-31 last season (incredibly, both made the expanded 2020 playoff field) but here in 2021, The 91-58 Brewers lead the NL Central by 11.5 games and joined the Giants and Dodgers by clinching a playoff berth on Saturday. As for the 88-61 Astros, they lead the A's by SIX games in the AL West and their run-differential mark of plus-201 runs is second to only that of the Dodgers. Many will likely remember that despite its 29-231 record in 2020, Houston was not eliminated in last year's postseason until Game 7 of the ALCS.

I noted earlier, what a difference a year makes! Let me expand on that statement, here. If the season had ended yesterday (instead of Oct 3), only two 2020 division winners would have repeated in 2021. The Tampa Rays won the AL East last season at 40-20 (.667) and the 92-58 (.613) Rays are currently 6.5 games clear of the second-place Red Sox. The other 2020 division winner that currently sits atop of its division through Sep 19 is the 77-70 (.524) Atlanta Braves. The Braves won their third straight NL East title in 2020 (35-24, .593) but only lead the 76-73 Phillies by TWO games (note: Philadelphia has missed the postseason in each of the last NINE seasons). As previously noted, the Dodgers have won EIGHT straight NL West titles and are just ONE game back of the Giants, so they could surely be 2021's third "repeat" division winner. 

The same can't be said of 2020's three other division winners. The Minnesota Twins won the AL Central with a 36-24 record in 2020 but are an awful 65-85 in 2021, 20.5 games back of the 85-64 White Sox, who are poised to win their first division title since 2008 (Chicago owns an 1.5-game lead on the 2nd-place Indians). The Oakland A's won the AL West with a 36-24 record in 2020 but enter the final two weeks of the current season SIX games back of Houston. The A's are still in the hunt for one of two AL wild card spots but so are FOUR other teams. The A's are currently TWO games out of the No. 2 wild card spot. Over in the NL Central, the Cubs won the division in 2020 at 34-26 but like the Twins, have followed with an 'UGLY' season (67-83, 24.5 games back of division-leading Milwaukee.

There are basically two division titles "up for grabs" in 2021's final two weeks, the NL East (Atl/Phi) and the NL West West (SF/LA). The real interest with be the battle for TWO wild card spots in the AL between 86-65 Boston, 84-65 Toronto, 83-67 New York, 82-67 Oakland and 80-29 Seattle (note: The Mariners haven't made the postseason since they won 116 games back in the 2001 season!). Either the Giants or the Dodgers are 'locked into' the No. 1 wild card spot in the NL, leaving ONE spot available for either 79-69 St Louis, 77-73 Cincinnati or Philadelphia and San Diego (both are 76-73).

See you in October.

Good luck...Larry

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